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Trump primary challenger Sanford calls president ‘unhinged’ and ‘insecure’

Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who is waging a long-shot bid for the GOP presidential nomination, says President Trump is “unhinged” and deeply “insecure.”

“Of course he’s unhinged,” Sanford said in an interview at The Hill’s offices on Friday when asked what he thought about the president’s mental state in light of recent remarks and actions that have made Republicans across the spectrum uncomfortable.

“He’s highly unusual in his approach to life and politics. I’ve never seen anybody as insecure in my life and somebody found it so necessary to tear down” his critics, said Sanford, who is running against Trump on a platform of returning the GOP to the party of fiscal discipline.

He pointed to Trump’s acrimonious clashes with one-time allies like former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who Trump called “the world’s most overrated general” and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, characterized by Trump as “dumb as a rock.”

Both officials left the administration after clashing with Trump over policy decisions.

“Just go down the list. Tillerson is as dumb as a rock, though he ran one of the biggest corporations of the world,” Sanford said.

“Everybody is stupid compared to him,” he added. “I don’t understand the insecurity. I don’t know what daddy didn’t do for him. I don’t want to try to figure it out.”

“Yeah, there’s some unhinged there. And I think it’s on display every single day,” Sanford added.

Trump for his part has mocked Sanford and his 2009 sex scandal that forced him to resign as governor.

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“When the former Governor of the Great State of South Carolina, @MarkSanford, was reported missing, only to then say he was away hiking on the Appalachian Trail, then was found in Argentina with his Flaming Dancer friend, it sounded like his political career was over,” Trump tweeted last month when Sanford announced his candidacy for the White House.

Despite the personal tensions, Sanford says Congress should censure and not impeach Trump.

“My personal view is that censure is far cleaner,” he told The Hill.

“What are you really after? If you want him out of office then arguably it’s not the best route to go, which is why I think [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.] had been reticent in the first place given her experience with Clinton,” he said, referring to the political fallout of the 1998 impeachment of former President Clinton, which was credited with helping Democrats pick up House seats in the 1998 midterm elections.

“If you want him out of office, I think it’s a far clearer message for the House and Senate to condemn,” Sanford said, predicting a censure resolution would be more likely to attract Republican votes than articles of impeachment.

“I think you more easily pick up Republican votes in a censure,” he said. “They condemn, saying whatever it is is wrong but we’re not going to make the final call, we trust the American public to do so in a matter of months,” he said, referring to the 2020 election.

Sanford predicts Trump will thrive in the political chaos that will take over Washington in the midst of a highly partisan impeachment fight.

“The problem of an impeachment is it sucks all the oxygen out of the room. There is no other subject and that’s true in the event that this becomes full blown,” he said of the House impeachment process.

“I think it, personally, plays right into the music that Trump wants to sing. The idea of setting up an us-against-them contest, a contest of personality,” Sanford said, predicting that Trump will relish turning the impeachment debate into a personality contest between himself and Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairmen of the Judiciary and Intelligence committees, respectively.

“It is continued chaos and chaos theory accrues to his benefit,” he added.

Sanford argued that launching impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon in 1973 and Clinton in 1998 made more sense because both presidents were early in their second term and there was no other option to remove them from office.

That’s not the case with Trump, who will face voters in just over 12 months, giving the American people a chance to remove him from office if they so choose, he said.

“In this case, we’re at the end of a first term, you have an election and I think that’s the ultimate judgment that can be rendered is a judgment by the public,” he said.

Sanford thinks Republican lawmakers are more likely to support a censure resolution because it would not mean voting to overturn voters’ choices in the 2016 election.

“My take would be there are probably members out there that want to say I want to disapprove,” he said, predicting that GOP lawmakers will want to register their concerns over the findings of the House investigation into Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine. 

“There’s a difference between that and saying, ‘We’re going to overturn the last election.’ That’s a tougher vote,” he said.

Sanford said, “I think that there’s stuff on which you could raise an impeachment charge” but added he doesn’t support that path because it is unlikely to produce a positive result. 

“Does that lead you to the objective that I think is best for this country, which I think is Trump out of office. And I still don’t think so,” he said.

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